Christmas Outdoor Lighting

As the end of the year approaches, many 'To Do' lists include getting Christmas outdoor lighting set up. Television shows, sitcoms and Hollywood movies often portray the humorous side in this task, with outdoor lighting often posing comical activities.

For example, in the 1989 comedy, "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," viewers laugh as Clark Griswold Jr. (aka Chevy Chase) wires his home to the max, killing the power in the rest of the neighborhood and misdirecting flights as his wife finally turns the right switch on, connecting what appears to be nuclear power to light the display.

With Tim the Tool Man from sitcom, "Home Improvements," viewers witness equally funny episodes during Christmas where Tim tried to outdo his neighbors with The Best display on the block. Yet he often electrocutes himself or others, or somehow destroys the project.

While Christmas outdoor lighting may pose funny issues, there are really not many basic steps involved. To complete this task, try these simple steps:

1) Begin with lighting - do you have what you need from last year? Have a hearty breakfast, lunch, dinner or at least a snack, and then go look! Find any lights you have available. And gather them into one area. If you are short, use this Kmart coupon and possibly save some money.

2) Testing time! In a safe manner (i.e. not standing in a puddle of water), test the strings of lights to see how many work, how many need new bulbs and how many are just ready for retired - the trash. Separate your work, placing strings that are ready to go in one area, strings to toss in another, etc.

3) Next either plan a design using what you have on hand, or check your budget to add more lighting for the season, and review current ads and websites to find the best deals. To determine how many strings you'll need for your home, you can measure the length of the area you want to light up, then add on about another 30 or so feet for extra, just in case. Include not only your house in this measurement, but any trees, shrubs, etc., as well.

4) Once you find the best deal for your lighting, use your measurements to see how many strings of lights you'll need. You'll generally find strings that boast a minimum of 25 lights up to a maximum of 200 lights, with 50 lights per foot with regular bulbs, double with miniature bulbs. Choose your colors and get extra connectors (3-pronnged, if needed - check the strands).

5) Decorate in a safe manner, with someone holding your ladder. Or hire this done by local contractors who advertise this time of year on the classified ads (check Craigslist, too!)

6) When the holiday is over, gently wrap the strands around cardboard to keep strands from getting tangled. Then store in safe, dry place. You can find sturdy plastic and other types of containers at local Wal-Mart and other family stores. Search warehouse odd lots, too, for good buys.

Thus you have your Christmas outdoor lighting: 6 steps to set up your Christmas outdoor lighting. Happy holidays!

Easy Breezy Summer Patio

Create that perfect 'staycation' summer patio the whole family will enjoy! These quick and easy ideas will have you spending more time enjoying your outdoor spaces, less time preparing them and loving every minute of it.

Fast redo for worn out patio furniture. Spray paint it. It's quick and cheap. These days you can buy spray paint for any surface from wood and wicker, to metal and even plastic! Spray several thin coats rather than one thick coat to keep the finish even and free of runs.

Revitalize your furniture cushions without sewing! All you need is fabric and heavy duty tape. You can use any fabric that you have on hand. If it's not outdoor fabric, just bring your cushions in when necessary. Simply wrap your cushions and tape the fabric down on the underside side. Add a splash of color with reversible throw pillows. Use brightly colored cloth napkins or bandannas to sandwich a small pillow form. Tie the fabric in a knot at the four corners.

Designer patio rug for cement patios and wooden decks. This is a great project to get the kids to help with. Use sidewalk chalk to draw any rug size or shape to fits your space. Paint it with outdoor paint. This is a handy way to use up any small bits of leftover paint you may have laying around! Paint a fast color block and consider it done. Or have fun and create any pattern that pleases. Painted fringe adds to the illusion. Small imperfections will make it more believable, so don't worry about making it perfect.

Crazy easy summer foliage. For ultra inexpensive greenery, plant grass seed in your pots or large bowls. Just let it fill in and grow. Simple, charming and no mowing required!

Mood lighting sets the tone! Make your own inexpensive outdoor lanterns with common household items. Line the bottom of glass jars with sand and place a candle inside. For extra color, stain the sand with food coloring before using. Use citronella candles for double duty. Keep it safe and never leave candles unattended. Don't place them on a flammable surface or in a draft.

Charming outdoor spaces are so simple to create. No matter if you have a small balcony or a large backyard, these simple facelifts will brighten it right up. It's time you enjoy your summer patio!

Cathy Robertson is an Artist and writer for Fine Art Castle. Stop by and take a peek at our Fine Art Prints for your Canvas Art decorating needs at http://www.fineartcastle.com

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Planning An Outdoor Kitchen

Planning Overview

Homeowners have always appreciated the benefits of cooking, dining, and entertaining outdoors. With fresh air and the sounds of nature and nice neighborhoods, people discover that some of life's stresses seem to melt away in the backyard.

Not too many years ago, outdoor cooking meant a tiny grill with little or no working space. This meant many trips to and from the house, a weathered old picnic table, and generally many inconveniences.

Currently, people are taking steps to claim their backyard as an extension of the comforts of their home. Manufacturers of outdoor cooking products have responded with a huge supply of products. Some examples are: large grills that make cooking easier, outdoor pizza ovens, cabinets specifically for the outdoors, and large entertaining areas.

These days, there is something for every budget, and even small upgrades can improve the outdoor cooking experience. Here are some tips to get started planning a small but nice outdoor kitchen:

A modest outdoor kitchen usually consists of a built-in gas or charcoal grill set into 6 foot long counter and a couple of cabinets below the grill. If you are currently used to cooking on a tiny grill with little or no flat surface area, then this will be a major outdoor kitchen upgrade. It will also provide a stable cooking appliance and an area for preparing vegetables and other foods for cooking.

For the easiest installation, buy an all-in-one grill unit. Some units contain a built-in refrigerator and/or overhead lighting. Consider the simplest unit if your backyard space is limited. If you only grill occasionally, a big outdoor cooking system might be a little more than you need. Never pay full price; always look online for deals, like this Sears coupon for barbeques and appliances.

Adding Touches to Your Patio and Outdoor Kitchen

If you would like to take the simple counter and grill a step further, consider some of these options:

-Add a raised counter or outdoor bar, sitting either to the side of or on the opposite side of the grill station. This allows you to bring family members and friends closer to the cook, giving the cookout a better social atmosphere.

-If you install an electric line and an outdoor receptacle near the grill station counter, you will be able to run various electrical appliances, such as a refrigerator, food processor, or electric knife. This is always a better option than just running an extension cord outside.

-If your counter is near the house and close to the indoor kitchen, it might be inexpensive to hook up a sink to the cutting area. This will be very helpful in food preparation and cleanup.

-Think about building a fire pit in the yard. This will add kind of a campfire-like experience to your cookouts. It will also make the outdoor kitchen area appear bigger and more user-friendly.

-Nice looking patio furniture also gives off a more comfortable feel and enhances the setting.

-Low-voltage lighting, for a relatively low price, will create a nice ambience to the whole backyard kitchen setting.

If you live in a climate where you can cook outdoors more often, then by all means, build to suit that lifestyle. If the climate or your lifestyle does not permit outdoor cooking as often, then scale down your outdoor grill area plans to fit those needs. Remember, there really is never any need to create more of an outdoor kitchen than what your budget or your time will allow.

Billy Bristol is the editor and chief bbq pitmaster for TexasBarbeques.com, an outdoor cooking and entertaining website devoted to backyard living. TexasBarbeques.com has been providing barbecue recipes, cooking tips, grilling techniques, and backyard entertainment ideas since 2005.

TexasBarbeques.com